30 Must-See Places Around the U.S. to Take Your Kids Before They Fly the Coop
Kids grow up in a blink, so there's no time like the present to visit these bucket list destinations around the country and experience adventures they'll remember forever.
Why visit: The seat of the US government is a perfect place to start exploring American with your family.
What to do: Be awed by the towering Lincoln and Washington Memorials. Stop in any Smithsonian Institution that catches your kid's fancy, from American History to Space Exploration to Native American to African American to Art—they're all free. Plan ahead and you'll be able to visit the White House and Congress too. Round out a visit with a trip to the stellar zoo and then up to Adam's Morgan neighborhood to sample a cornucopia of international cuisines.
Why visit: Walk in the footsteps of our founding fathers.
What to do: Head to Independence National Historic Park, called "America's Most Historic Square Mile," to see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, along with the Betsy Ross House, Benjamin Franklin Museum, and National Constitution Center. Older kids will love the walk-through heart at Franklin Science Institute, younger kids the hands-on Please Touch Museum. Everyone will want to try the frozen treats at Franklin Fountain, a vintage-style ice cream parlor.
New York City
Why visit: Be awed by the bustle and bright lights of The Big Apple.
What to do: Watch Times Square glow with neon lights and pick up tickets to watch a real Broadway show at the TKTS booth, ride to the top of the Empire State Building, and see the dinosaurs at The Museum of Natural History. Be sure to leave time for people-watching in Central Park. Other highlights include the moving tribute to the fallen towers at the World Trade Center Memorial, the full-size planes kept on a real warship at The Intrepid, and eating your way around the world in foods halls such as Chelsea Market and in neighborhoods like Chinatown and Little Italy. New York City is also perfect travel destination for even the most jaded teen traveler.
Niagara Falls, New York
Why visit: Straddling both the U.S. and Canada, these rushing waters at the oldest state park in the country are sure to give families a rush.
What to do: Take the Maid of the Mist boat to feel the spray on your face from one of the world's most incredible waterfalls, and then don raincoats to explore under the falls in the Cave of the Winds where you'll really witness the pounding waters up close.
Acadia National Park, Maine
Why visit: Spectacular ocean scenery along Maine's coast.
What to do: Head to the northeast for serious hiking and miles of family-friendly biking on the preserved carriage roads at this New England national park. Stay in Bar Harbor for great ice cream, whale watching, kayaking with sea lions, and "lob-stah" pulled right from the chilly Atlantic Ocean.
Why visit: To follow the midnight ride of Paul Revere.
What to do: Follow the red brick road to make history come alive for families along the Freedom Trail that runs through the historic city. Follow Paul Revere's famous route, see where the Boston Tea Party took place, and visit the big ships in the harbor. Then take a stroll through the grassy Boston Commons and rent a scenic swan boat. Stop at Harvard yard for some inspirational moments in the ivy or take in a baseball game at Fenway Park for some spirited fan antics. To spend the night in history, book at room at the Langham Boston, which started its life in 1865 as the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Find out 12 ways to take the stress out of flying.
Why visit: Get a kick in your step at the home of country music.
What to do: Start your Music City visit with a stop at the Ryman Auditorium to explore the origins of the music form and even step on the stage where The Grand Old Opry started (then head to its new home for a fabulous all-ages show). A highlight of the Country Music Hall of Fame is the Taylor Swift Education Center where kids can learn to strum a ukulele or create a take-home art project. Be sure to indulge in some meat-and-three or Nashville Fried Chicken spots, and take in some of the live music at the surprisingly family-friendly Honky Tonks (during the day that is) up and down Broadway. Stay at kid-pleasing Kimpton Aertson hotel which has pool that spans the entire rooftop.
Orlando and the Space Coast, Florida
Why visit: Make your family smile at The Happiest Place on Earth.
What to do: Walt Disney World is the most visited theme park in the world for a reason, and riding Space Mountain and meeting Mickey are great family bonding moments. Harry Potter fans will want to make a beeline to Universal Orlando too. Round out the fun with an educational (but still entertaining) side trip to the Space Coast and Kennedy Space Center to see rockets, meet an astronaut, and learn about the grand adventures in space. Here's how to save money on a Disney vacation.
Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia
Why visit: Immerse yourself in Colonial history.
What to do: At this living history museum, the kids can help churn butter, practice farming, discover how kids entertained themselves in the 18th century (before handheld electronics), and learn just how much work it was to live in Colonial times. After they've soaked up the history lessons, bring them back to modern fun at Busch Gardens amusement park.
Why Visit: Step into Civil Rights history in the place called "The City Too Busy to Hate."
What to do: In the Sweet Auburn neighborhood, the Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site you can visit Ebenezer Baptist Church, where both Dr. King and his father preached, the peaceful preacher's home, and other neighborhood landmarks, on a self-guided tour. Be sure to stop in at downtown's Center for Civil and Human Rights to explain to your kids about preserving human dignity for all people, before heading to adjoining kids-favorites such as the Atlanta Aquarium (the largest in the country) and the World of Coca Cola.